Basin League

The Basin League (1953-1973) was an independent collegiate minor league, that operated from 1953-1973, featuring teams primarily from South Dakota. The league name reflected the number of teams situated along the Missouri River Basin. The league roster structure evolved from some professional to totally amateur during its existence, becoming a pioneer of what is known today as collegiate summer baseball. Over 100 future major league players played in the Basin League, among them were Baseball Hall of Fame members Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer and Don Sutton.

Basin League
SportBaseball Independent collegiate minor league
No. of teams12
Most titles9 Pierre Cowboys
Official website


The league was first established in 1953 with a roster of South Dakota franchises and one nearby Nebraska team. Teams in Chamberlain (Chamberlain Chiefs), Mitchell (Mitchell Kernels), Pierre (Pierre Cowboys), Winner (Winner Pheasants), as well as Valentine, Nebraska (Valentine Hearts) were the initial franchises. The league's name reflected the number of teams situated along the Missouri River Basin. The Pierre Cowboys would play in all 21 seasons of the league's existence. [1]

The league began with a mix of professional players and amateurs (upper high school and collegiate players) on its rosters. It later became exclusively amateur, evolving into what is known today as collegiate summer baseball.[2]

In 1954, the league expanded, as Huron (Huron Elks), Watertown (Watertown Lake Sox) and Yankton (Yankton Terrys) entered the league.

In 1955, the League ran an advertisement in The Sporting News. In the April 6, 1955 edition of "The Sporting News": "Class A Players Wanted - For fast semipro Basin League. Capable of playing Class A ball. Write 712 Capital, Yankton, S.D."[2]

In 1958, the league split the season into two halves, with each half winner meeting for the league championship, before reverting back to full season play in 1959.[1]

As the league grew the late 1950s, a few Basin League teams were assigned a "'parent" major league club and received equipment and support. The Rapid City Chiefs were assigned to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Sturgis Titans were assigned to the Boston Red Sox and the Pierre Cowboys were assigned to the Cleveland Indians. While a positive for those three franchises, it created an imbalance in support of the other league teams.[2]

Basin League rules changed in 1960, limiting teams to three professional players per team. In 1961, the number was reduced to two. Then, in 1962, none were allowed. Professionals were allowed to manage. But by 1964, professional managers were also excluded. Amateur umpires were used by the league from 1953-1960.[2]

From 1962 through 1967, the Basin League received regular national coverage in the weekly publication "The Sporting News." The Sporting News covered the Basin League, as they did with lower minor professional leagues. In 1966, the Basin League amateur talent pool took a hit when the NCAA ruled that NCAA college seniors could no longer play in the league.[2]

To keep their amateur status, most Basin League players received approximately $200-$500 for the summer season, with the pay received for 'odd jobs' in the local communities. Players often worked for the city recreation departments maintaining public facilities and baseball fields.[3]

The Basin League ceased operations after the 1973 season. The growth of youth baseball had created conflicts for fans. The NCAA had also put restrictions on the league, while at the same time, major league teams were reexamining player development resources. There were four league teams remaining in the final season in 1973: Chamberlain Mallards, Pierre Cowboys, Rapid City Chiefs and the Sturgis Titans.[1][3]

For a time, the Basin League was touted as the best summer college league in the country. Comparable leagues included the Cape Cod League and the Alaska Baseball League.[3]

Basin League ballparks

  • Chamberlain Chiefs/Mallards (1953-1956); (1968-1973). Greig Field. The ballpark is still in use today.
  • Huron Elks (1954-1962). Memorial Ballpark Stadium. The ballpark also hosted the Huron Cubs and Huron Phillies minor league teams.
  • Mitchell Kernels (1953-1960). Kernel Park. Kernel Park was located adjacent to Joe Quintal Field, which is still in use today as home to Mitchell High School teams.
  • Mobridge Lakers (1966-1972). Mobridge Field. The field is still in use and known as the American Legion Memorial Park.
  • Pierre Cowboys, (1953-1973). Hyde Stadium. Hyde Stadium is still in use and is located near the state capitol and governor's mansion.
  • Rapid City Chiefs (1957-1973). Sioux Park Stadium. Sioux Park Stadium was built specifically for the Chiefs in 1957 and is still in use after being renamed Fitzgerald Stadium.
  • Sioux Falls Packers (1964-1965). Sioux Falls Stadium. Sioux Falls Stadium was built in 1941 and was nicknamed "The Birdcage." The ballpark is still in use and has been remodeled as home to the Sioux Falls Canaries.
  • Sturgis Titans (1961-1973). Strong Field. Built in 1951, Titan Field was renamed Strong Field in 1967 after the contractor who led the movement to build the facility. It is still in use today for the Sturgis Titans high school teams and American Legion teams.
  • Watertown Lake Sox (1954-1962). Watertown Stadium. Watertown Stadium later became the home of the minor league Watertown Expos and is still in use today.
  • Winner Pheasants (1953-1957). Leahy Bowl. The Leahy Bowl was named for Winner native Frank Leahy, legendary football coach at Notre Dame University. The baseball field is still in use today.
  • Yankton Terrys (1954-1959). Riverside Field. The Ballpark is still in use today as home to the Mount Marty College baseball team. It has been renamed Bob Tereshinski Stadium at Riverside Field after former MMC baseball coach Bob Tereshinski.
  • Valentine Hearts (1953-1967). Veterans Memorial Field. Veterans Memorial Field is still in use today as home to American Legion baseball.


League Franchises/Titles

Notable Basin League alumni

Baseball Hall of Fame Alumni

  • Bob Gibson, Chamberlain Chiefs (1956-1957). Inducted, 1981
  • Pat Gillick, Valentine Hearts (1956-1957), Inducted, 2011
  • Jim Palmer, Winner Pheasants (1963). Inducted, 1990
  • Don Sutton, Sioux Falls Packers (1964). Inducted, 1998

Major League/notable alumni

Key:** Denotes MLB All-Star



  1. "Basin League".
  2. "Basin League History (1953-1973)".
  3. Writer, Darrell Shoemaker, Journal Sports. "Basin League had memorable run in S.D." Rapid City Journal Media Group.
  4. "1966 Basin League Yearbook".
  5. "Valentine Nebraska Baseball Field Veterans Memorial Ballpark".
  6., Rob Nielsen. "A New Name For Old Ball Park". Yankton Press & Dakotan.
  7. "Official Website of the City of Sturgis, SD - STRONG FIELD".
  8. "American Legion Field, Mobridge, South Dakota - Amateur Baseball Fields on".
  9. "Recreation".
  10. "1958 Basin League Photo Gallery".
  11. "1963 Basin League Photo Gallery".
  12. "1954 Basin League Photo Gallery".
  13. "1972 Basin League Photo Gallery".
  14. "List of Players".
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